Writing for Maximum Length
When I finished my first book, it was around 100,000 words. To me, that seemed to be far too short. So, I want back and added a bunch of stuff which ballooned the word count to approximately 140,000 words. My reasoning was that great books should as big as possible and I wanted a massive volume that dominated any shelf.
After my additions, my book went through a long process. In all the reviews and editing, a bunch of areas was trimmed down. The majority of the trimming came from the material I had added. This was a difficult process that took a lot of effort.
One way to look at this trimming is a quality versus quantity argument. Essentially, there were many pages that added no story value. Another viewpoint is to trim away fluff. When Michelangelo was asked how he made the statue of David, he responded, “It was easy. I just chipped away the stone that didn’t look like David.”
Since my first book, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my writing philosophy and process. I’ve come to understand that it defiantly was a mistake to write for maximum length. Books are about story and when the story drones on, readers won’t be impressed. Since my first book, I’ve adopted a different approach and I start by creating an outline. From there, I move sections around to set the overall flow.
Is there an ideal book length? At the beginning of the writing process, I did some research and the general length that publishers want is 120,000 words. I try to shoot for this general length at the outline stage. How? I make my outlines around 5 pages. To me, that kind of works out to 120,000 words and I think that’s a good goal. Stay tuned for a later blog where I share my chaotic outline process.
Well, how many acts does a 120,000-word book need to have? I have no idea. I don’t even know how many acts my present works have because I never analyzed my books in that way. Well, how many chapters should there be? A chapter is there to break up the flow. It also allows readers a good point to pause for the evening. Some of my chapters are really long and some are really short. I am trying to be much better at having even chapter lengths. Keeping this in mind at the outline stage helps.
What about the little things that add to the length? Adding descriptions of scenes, characters, emotions, and thoughts. I confess that I’m not that good at general descriptions. After my first draft, I have to go back and enhance the scenes. Is this an effort to make the book longer? I suppose, but that’s not my goal in updating these sections. My goal is to get the visualization out of my head and onto the page.
What sizes of books do I like to read? When I first pop a book into my Calibre reader, it tells me the page count at the bottom. In general, they are ~900 pages. (This is an arbitrary number generated by the reader.) To me, I like stories that are this general length. For this blog, I did a check and that just happens to be right around 110,000 words. However, I really like Ken Follett’s long in-depth stories and they are far longer than 900 pages.
It seems, that this blog has come full circle. What is the best number of words in a book? I suppose the answer is whatever you want it to be. What should the goal of a writer be with regards to length? A good goal is 120,000 words, but that’s a starting point. If the work ends up longer or shorter, that’s just fine. The main takeaway for me is not to think in terms of length with regards to writing a book. Wow, short blog this week.


You’re the best -Bill
August 30, 2018
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